By Alex Maschmedt and Matthew Gardner. King & Wood Mallesons’ Melbourne office.

Two of the key policy bodies for road and vehicle use in Australia, AustRoads and the National Transport Commission (NTC), have jointly developed new “Guidelines for Trials of Automated Vehicles in Australia” (Guidelines), published on 24 May 2017.

The Guidelines are the first step in framework for reform of Australia’s transport regulatory systems to accommodate the rise of automated vehicles.

Organisations seeking to trial highly or fully automated vehicles (ie vehicles that can operate largely or completely without a human driver) in Australia will need to refer to the Guidelines when applying for permits and exemptions from Australian regulators for the trials, and when planning for and conducting their trials.

The Guidelines require submission to regulators of information in four categories when seeking exemptions or permits for trials:

  1. Key management criteria
  2. Insurance
  3. Safety Management Plan
  4. Data and information

The Guidelines are not intended to be appropriate for widespread deployment of automated vehicles. The requirements for large-scale deployment of automated vehicles in Australia are currently under development.

The purpose of the Guidelines and the information required in each of these categories is described further below.

Purpose and applicability of the Guidelines

Under existing Australian regulatory frameworks, highly or fully automated vehicles cannot legally be operated on public roads. This means that organisations seeking to trial automated vehicle technology need to seek exemptions and permits relating to their regulatory obligations from the various State and Territory agencies that regulate use of roads and vehicles in Australia (road transport agencies) and other regulators involved in vehicle use in Australia (eg the Commonwealth in relation to importation of vehicles and heavy vehicle regulation, Local Governments in residential areas).

The Guidelines are designed as a uniform set of mandatory requirements to be applied by road transport agencies and addressed by trialling agencies in any application for permits and exemptions for, and when conducting, an automated vehicle trial. They aim to:

  • Support nationally consistent conditions for automated vehicle trials
  • Provide certainty and clarity to industry around testing
  • Help road transport agencies manage trials in their States and across borders
  • Establish minimum safety standards for trials
  • Help raise awareness and acceptance of automated vehicles by the public

The Guidelines are also intended as a useful guide to organisations conducting automated vehicle trials that use lower levels of automation (eg automation of only some driving functions whilst maintaining human control of the vehicle), which do not require specific approval from road transport agencies.

Criteria for automated vehicle trials to address

Under the Guidelines, an application for permission to conduct an automated vehicle trial must address each of the following criteria (or otherwise explain why it is not relevant):




1 Key management criteria This criteria is focussed on establishing how the trialling organisation intends to manage the conduct of the trial.  Key management criteria include:

  • The location of the trial (eg specific roads, routes or regions), so that road transport agencies can determine the suitability of that location for an automated vehicle trial
  • A description of the technology being trialled, so that road transport agencies to determine the safety risks of the trial
  • A traffic management plan outlining traffic risks and mitigations for the trial – eg matters relating to traffic density, pedestrians, signage, irregular events (roadworks, crashes), complex intersection procedures
  • Infrastructure or network requirements for the trial (including any assistance with infrastructure needed from road transport agencies)
  • A plan for engagement with the public and stakeholders (eg local government, road user groups, emergency services) regarding the trial –Change management procedures outlining how the trialling organisation plans to manage changes to vehicles or infrastructure during the trial, including any changes (eg major software updates) that will require safety to be re-evaluated
2 Appropriate insurance Trialling organisations must demonstrate they have insurance at an appropriate level to ensure any road user injured by an automated vehicle trial is no worse off than if they were injured by a human operated vehicle.  Appropriate insurances may include third party and comprehensive vehicle insurance, public and product liability insurance, self-insurance and WHS insurance.
3 Safety Management Plan Trialling organisations are required to develop a safety management plan outlining all key relevant safety risks and how they will be eliminated or mitigated.  The key safety criteria to be addressed in a safety management plan are:

  • Security of the automated system, particularly against hacking of the control system and theft of personal information
  • Risks to other road users including drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists and passengers
  • Risks to road infrastructure and what impact the trial will have on existing infrastructure
  • How the trialling organisation will deal with system failure including hardware failure, software errors and human errors (eg fall-backs, redundancies, warning procedures)
  • Whether there will be a human driver and if not how safety risks are addressed without having a human driver
  • Appropriate transition processes for vehicles to transition from automated to human control and vice-versa(may not be relevant for fully automated trials where a human driver is not used at all)
  • Any pre-trial testing of the vehicle(s) at a test facility (eg a closed test track)
  • Training and fitness-for-duty requirements for human drivers or operators involved in the trial
  • Whether vehicle identifiers will be used to inform other road users that the vehicle(s) used in the trial is automated
4 Data and information

Trialling organisations must comply with existing crash reporting requirements in the jurisdiction(s) in which the trial occurs.  Trialling organisations must also report “serious incidents” involving a crash or a violation of law (eg speeding, running a red light) to the relevant road transport agency.

Trialling organisations should collect all information about a serious incident and performance of the system during the incident, including information about:

  • The time, date and location of the incident
  • The automation status (eg fully automated, in transition, human control) at the time of the incident
  • Road and weather conditions
  • Vehicle / sensor information (eg speed, brake / throttle application)
  • The identity of the vehicle’s driver / operator

A preliminary incident report should be provided within 24 hours (barring extraordinary circumstances) and a full report within 7 days.

Trialling organisations should also provide monthly progress reports including on incidents such as near misses, and public complaints about the trial.

At the end of the trial, trialling organisations should provide a high level summary of the outcome of the trial.

Implementation and what’s next

The Guidelines are designed to be suitable for most trials of automated vehicles, including cross-border trials and commercial trials (eg trials by ride-sharing or taxi operations). However, they are not suitable for large-scale deployment of automated vehicles – the requirements for which are still under development.

The Guidelines have been developed with the input of members of the industry, including vehicle manufacturers and automated technology developers and AustRoads and the NTC’s aim is that the Guidelines will promote Australia as a “testbed” for automated vehicle technology. Trials of automated vehicle technology in Australia have so far been quite limited, and time will tell if the Guidelines will increase the frequency or scale of trials in Australia. The technology and regulatory regimes needed for society to realise the sizable safety and economic benefits of truly automated vehicles remains some time off for now, but a clear, consistent and well understood environment for trials to occur is an important step in the process.